War on the Environment

 

Voice From UCSB: Dennis J. Aigner

 

8/1/04

 

 

 

White House sees high energy use as the American way of life

 

 

While hindsight may be the only truly accurate lens through which to assess the Bush administration’s war on terror, no hindsight is required to see how President Bush, with the help of a significant majority of House and Senate Republicans, is simultaneously waging a war on the environment.

 

The president’s view of the environment is consistent with the way he sees just about everything else -- as a simple yes/no, us/them proposition. In this case it's the economy -- growth, jobs -- vs. the environment -- impediments to growth, hence less job creation.

 

And the strength of Mr. Bush's feelings about this trade-off often borders on the messianic, as exemplified by former presidential spokesperson Ari Fleischer's words in May 2001, explaining the president's view that our energy needs should be addressed by expanding supply, not by managing demand:

 

“The president believes that high energy consumption is an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one,” he said.

 

 High energy consumption doesn't always equate to environmental harm, but it does when petroleum and other fossil fuels are the basis for your national energy strategy.

 

In the good old days, the Grand Old Party actually stood for fiscal prudence, reducing waste, love of country, and responsibility to future generations -- ideas that mesh well with environmental goals.

 

But first Ronald Reagan and now his alter ego, George W. Bush, have mounted an assault on the environment that runs the risk of reversing the environmental progress made since another Republican president, Richard Nixon, established the Environmental Protection Agency and encouraged and signed into law four landmark federal environmental bills.

 

In the Reagan years, congressional oversight blunted most of Mr. Reagan’s anti-environment agenda. Unfortunately, oversight is missing in the current House of Representatives and is hanging on by only a thread in the Senate.

 

 

In 2003, combining the second session of the 107th Congress with the first session of the 108th Congress, there were 17 votes in the Senate and 18 in the House that had clear environmental implications. Republicans overall had poor voting records in both chambers: 13 percent pro-environment in the Senate and 14 percent in the House.

 

By way of contrast, Senate Democrats voted pro-environment 70 percent of the time, while House Democrats voted pro-environment 82 percent of the time.

 

Interestingly, over the past 24 years -- dating back to Mr. Reagan's inauguration -- the trends in voting records on environmental issues for Republicans have been downward while those for Democrats have been upward. Back in 1980, almost 40 percent of House Republican votes were pro-environment.

 

By region, the New England and mid-Atlantic states have by far the best environmental voting records, while the Southeast and Rocky Mountain/Southwest states have the worst.

 

California, along with other more pro-environment states, is grouped with two of the very worst states on environmental issues, Alaska and Idaho, so the West region falls in the middle along with the Midwest.

 

California’s Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both had pro-environmental voting records in 2003 that exceeded the Senate average for Democrats, as did Rep. Lois Capps, 23rd Dist., Santa Barbara, in the House, by a wide margin.

 

The four districts surrounding Santa Barbara are represented by Republicans, all of whom had worse-than-average voting records on environmental issues, led by David Dreier, 26th Dist., Bakersfield, and “Buck” McKeon, 25th Dist., Santa Clarita, who voted anti-environment at every opportunity presented to them in 2003.

 

Overall, 2003 was a bad year for the environment, with only two votes in each chamber ending up in the "pro" column.

 

Several pieces of legislation or amendments to bills in 2003 related to Mr. Bush's energy package -- H.R. 6, S.14 -- which passed the House in April of last year, but has yet to clear the Senate. Front and center in this package were controversial provisions to expand domestic oil production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and off the California coast, both of which were either explicitly defeated or were eliminated from S.14 and the House-Senate conference report.

 

Ms. Capps led the charge to retain the existing moratorium on offshore drilling and defeat language that would have denied states' rights to approve off-shore oil and gas development.

 

Meanwhile, the Bush administration instituted new policies aimed at easing environmental and procedural obstacles to the development of oil and gas reserves on specific Bureau of Land Management lands in several Western states. Of course, these are oil people, who are hellbent on expanding supply both here and abroad, for example, in Iraq.

 

The Bush administration also is challenging states that try to go beyond federal regulations or resist weakening existing ones.

 

California, which has led the nation on many environmental fronts over the years, is a prime target. The conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, whose founder, Fred L. Smith Jr., equates any sort of government regulation with socialism, is quoted as saying: “California is more aggressive, more activist-oriented and more pro-government (regulation), and to some extent they are anti-development, anti-growth and anti-technology.”

 

Take that, Silicon Valley.

 

Mr. Bush’s appointee as head of regulatory affairs at the Office of Management and Budget, John Graham, has said: “Environmental regulation should be depicted as an incredible intervention in the operation of society.”

 

Yet an October 2003 OMB report found that environmental regulation results in an annual net benefit to the country of between $78 billion and $156 billion.

 

This same John Graham lays out the Bush view quite clearly: “The Administration will continue to work to simplify and streamline regulations [the word “gut” could be substituted here], along with ensuring that well-intentioned compliance requirements [substitute “misguided”] do not have the unintended consequences of killing jobs.”

 

Ultimately, the laws of nature will prevail over the laws of economics. A healthy economy depends on a healthy environment, in other words, not the other way around.

 

The Bush administration, like Mr. Reagan’s before, is trying to take us back to the days when polluters were not accountable and the air in Los Angeles was routinely unhealthful to breathe -- all based on the false premise that a healthy environment and a good economy are incompatible goals.

 

This should not be surprising, since other significant policies adopted by this administration have been based on false premises or unsubstantiated claims.

 

The author is dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UCSB.